June 1, 2016
Patriots cheerleaders thrive on performing in front of a crowd, and once their time on the sidelines is over, some pursue ways to continue showmanship. For former cheerleader Leah, she found solace in an unlikely place: the wrestling ring.
After three seasons with the Patriots cheerleading squad and a season with the Lakers, Leah found her way to the WWE NXT as Carmella, a leopard print clad princess of Staten Island. Her character is fun, fierce and fabulous, she said.
“She actually is a lot like me. She’s fun, high energy, and I don’t really take anything from anybody,” Leah said. “I’m going to stand up for myself. She’s fabulous. I love fashion, and I try to incorporate that.”
Even though Leah grew up watching the sport, she never pictured herself in the ring, but after she graduated from UMass Dartmouth in 2010 and completed her year with the Lakers in 2011, she said trying out for the WWE just “evolved” naturally.
“I never thought it was something I could even do. I never thought it was a possibility. I never thought it was something I could train for and do,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh my god, what a challenge.’ I had 10 tryouts and kept making the cut, and I found myself in the WWE Performance Center in Orlando and I’ve been there for two and a half years.”
While her path to NXT was not one Leah had imagined, she said her time with the Patriots squad helped her transition. From time management to knowing how to represent a well-respected organization, she said the Patriots prepared her for this next course.
Moving forward, Leah’s goal is to win the NXT Women’s Championship, move up to the WWE and claim the women’s championship there.
With her background in dance, Leah has been able to incorporate her moves into the ring, but she has surprised herself with how quickly she has been able to adapt to a new and different world of physicality. Though many of her fellow wrestlers have backgrounds in the sport, wrestling in independent circuits before coming to NXT, Leah has had to learn the moves from the basics while using her dancing background and ability to work the crowd to her advantage.
“[The thing I’ve learned about myself is] probably just the fact that anything I can put my mind to, I can do. I really wasn’t sure when I started. I’m very confident in my ability to learn, but every time I’m in the ring, I can’t believe the things I can do and that I’ve learned,” Leah said. “It’s been really crazy. I see a move and it looks so hard and then I can do it. The coolest thing I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter how long it takes me, I’ll do it over and over until I get it.”
This drive and determination to get the moves down has helped make Carmella a force in NXT and to be a wrestler for her fans to look up to.
“I love interacting with the fans and being a positive role model for little girls,” she said. “I didn’t think I could become a wrestler, and I did it. I want them to know that whatever dreams they have, they can follow them as well.”
Dancing in the NBA…and the NFL
by Mike Trudell
Los Angeles Lakers
January 24, 2016
What’s the difference between dancing for an NBA team, and cheering for an NFL squad?
Well, Nick Young doesn’t really know, but that didn’t stop him from speculating extensively and randomly on the topic!
To balance things out with some actual insight, we enlisted first year Laker Girl Lauren, who used to cheer for the New Orleans Saints.
Below is a transcription of separate interviews with Swaggy P and Lauren:
Q: How does the audition process compare for NBA team vs. NFL teams?
Swaggy: I think they all find fliers and stuff on Instagram and Twitter to find out. It’s probably harder to be a Laker Girl because there’s more variety in L.A. and it’s a different stage. There are just more ladies, you know what I’m saying!
Lauren: The auditions were actually very similar, I must say, with some slight differences. There were a lot more girls auditioning for the Lakers Girls, which made it more competitive. With the Saints, it was a little longer of a process, lasting a full week, but it still had the preliminary round, with cuts through the day. We had to take a football test to make sure we knew the game, including naming all 32 teams. I did get all of them (after studying), but I’d known nothing about football before I cheered for the Saints. That did make me gain a love for it.
Q: How did you find out you made both teams?
Swaggy: I always wanted them to put it up on a sign, and be able to see my name on a list somewhere. Probably outside the arena on a wall or something. You know?
Lauren: One sweet touch with the Lakers that was nice is that (Lakers Director, Game Operations and Entertainment) Lisa (Estrada) calls each girl individually to let them know if they made the team or not. I was at the beach at the time – because that’s my happy place – just hoping for the best. Lisa called, and she thanked me for my time and coming out and told me she had a position for me. I was very, very happy. The Saints posted it online. I was in school at the time, in class, refreshing the Saints website until I found out. I think I got a text from my dad letting me know that they’d updated it and I’d made it.
Q: Is there a difference between dancing and cheering?
Swaggy: Yes. Big difference. With cheering they have the permanent smile. It’s more nice. Make me happy, make you all happy. Dancing sometimes you just get your groove on. I can dance. I’m kinda like Michael Jackson. I’m the king of the dancing video games, actually. I’m good.
Lauren: They’re both dance teams that require technical training. I was a cheerleader in high school, where you have the tumbling and stunting and all that. We don’t do that here, where it’s more high-energy routines. One thing that’s completely different about the NFL is dancing with pom poms. I’m had to get used to my hand placement here with the Lakers, because you don’t think about it like that (with pom poms). The pom poms probably made us look more like cheerleaders, but since there are so many people in the dome, it was a visual for people especially sitting up high. But yes, you have choreographed routines for both the NFL and the NBA, though we dance more with the Lakers.
Q: What is the game day experience like in the respective sports?
Swaggy: They probably listen to some crunk music to get fired up to dance. But for cheering maybe it’s make up and hair first. But the dancers may have to get more, like, ready for game day. But the Laker Girls are also classy. They’re doing their thing!
Lauren: It’s a much longer season in the NBA, and a lot smaller of a team. There are 22 of us Laker Girls, and we had 36 on the Saints, which made it really, really different. I know when I first made the Lakers, it felt so much smaller and more close knit. You’re able to build relationships a little easier, being that it’s a smaller team. You get to know every girl on the team. Game day experience wise, Staples Center is also smaller and more intimate than the Superdome, because you’re much closer. In the Superdome, we were standing far away from the fans, and I could barely make out any faces in the crowd.
Q: Why did you want to become a Laker Girl?
Swaggy: (Editor’s note: Swag was not asked this question, but his response probably would have been: “I’m not a Laker Girl tho.”)
Lauren: I always wanted to move to L.A. and audition for the Laker Girls, and (current Laker Girl) Karla and I used to dance together in Atlanta, and I reached out to her and asked her about it. She told me about her experience, and it just seemed like a really good fit for me. There can be an image tied to a lot of professional teams, and it can be hard to find a team with class. There are very few teams I’d actually go out for, and the Saints and Lakers are two of them. There is something very traditional about the Laker Girls that hasn’t changed, and it’s very refreshing to have that class, and have girls that are so smart. All these girls are very driven and very smart with lives outside of this.* You’d be amazed: these girls have substance. I’m probably going to do it until I can’t do it anymore, because I love it and you only live once. *Lauren is an entertainment coordinator for L.A. Fashion Week.
Q: How do the practices to get ready for games go?
Swaggy: I think there’s a difference … don’t the NFL cheerleaders have to practice on the field so maybe they need cleats? It’s kinda tough to dance in cleats, so, yeah. But the NBA can be in the gym … but also, they probably practice more hours and they have more games.
Lauren: It’s very similar, as we actually practiced Tuesday and Thursday in New Orleans, and Tuesday and Thursday for the Lakers if we don’t have a game. They last around the same amount of time.
Q: What athletes are more impressive?
Swaggy: Basketball players obviously. You really have to be an athlete … football you just have to get buff and run. I think it’s harder to be in the NBA than the NFL … but I like people to see me. Faces out! In football, you’re covered by a helmet.
Lauren: Now that I’m getting more comfortable I’m able to watch a bit more of the action. In my first few games, I was thinking more about the next routine: the formation, the counts and everything. I was a nervous wreck my first few games. But now I’m able to actually watch and relax and enjoy it more.
Q: Difference in the fans?
Swaggy: Well, L.A. is L.A. They’re the best, obviously. I don’t know the Saints fans or NFL fans as much.
Lauren: The fans are equally as loyal. Lakers fans are great, and they really get into the game. If there’s a little girl, I can actually make eye contact with her and wave, and that’s a special kind of interaction that you don’t get as much in football.
Congratulations to former Ladies of Ontario Fury Dancer Michelle C. for being selected to the 2015 – 2016 Laker Girls.
For the past several years, I have been fortunate to photograph this lovely dancer, first as a Anaheim Bolts Dance Team Member and for the past two years as a member of the Ladies of Ontario Fury Dance Team. I first saw her at tryouts for the Anaheim Bolts Dance Team and I knew she would be special. More recently, Michelle has been delighting fans while cheering on the Ontario Fury at the Citizens Business Bank Arena.
Under the direction of Dance Team Director Lynae de Leon, Michelle and several other members of both dance teams have blossomed and gone on to greater challenges with such squads as the Clippers Spirit, Charger Girls and now the Laker Girls.
A Laker Girl
Natasha Martinez of Chino Hills will be departing June 27 for the national Miss USA® competition to be televised on NBC. Thousands watched as Martinez was crowned Miss California USA® 2015 on January 11 at the Long Beach Terrace Theater. Martinez is a graduate of Chapman University and is currently the on air host a KDOC-TV. She is a former Los Angeles Laker Girl and was previously a princess and parade performer at Disneyland. The Miss USA® competition will be held at in Baton Rouge, LA and will air live on NBC on Sunday, July 12, 2015. Fifty-one young women from across the country will travel to compete for the coveted title.
So I went to an L.A. D-Fenders game on Friday, something I haven’t done in a few years. I was there with a friend, who always tries to catch a game at the Toyota Center every time he’s in town during the season. Why? Because the D-Fenders’ dance team are the Laker Girls. And it is a rare treat when you can see the Laker Girls up close and personal.
See more Laker Girl photos at my personal website, thehottestdanceteam.wordpress.com.
A Laker Girl
Congratulations to Natasha Martinez who was crowned Miss California USA in the Terrace Theater at the Long Beach Convention Center on Sunday. The former Laker Girl competing as Miss Santa Anita Park defeated almost 120 other contestants to win the title. She will compete in the Miss USA Pageant in June.
[Miss California USA]
Nearly 200 women from across California will be participating in this year’s MISS CALIFORNIA USA competition with the hopes of advancing to the national competitions. The winner of MISS CALIFORNIA USA® will go on to compete at the national MISS USA® competition which will be televised live on NBC.
This year, five current or former professional cheerleaders will be competing in the event.
Shelbi Buchholz – Miss Greater San Diego, San Diego Charger Girl
Chanelle Riggan – Miss Beverly Hills, Anaheim Duck Power Player
Jenny Ting – Miss Diamond Crest, Former Laker Girl and Charger Girl
Alexis Swanstrom – Miss Del Mar, Former Charger Girl
Brittany Wagner – Miss Universal City, Former Clippers Cheerleader and Ontario Fury Dancer
I have been fortunate to photograph four of these amazing women: Shelbi, Jenny, Alexis, and Brittany.
The MISS CALIFORNIA USA® pageant will be held in Long Beach, California at the Terrace Theater on January 9-11, 2015 and is open to the public. Tickets for all three pageant events are available via ticketmaster.com.
For more information on the Miss California USA pageant, please visit their website here.
The Laker Girls really stepped up their game with their new website. Much better than in years past. Be sure to check it out.
[The Laker Girls]
This month is our Tenth Anniversary and to celebrate we’re posting some of our all-time favorite photos.
Laker Girl Jessica in 2012.
The Lakers Girls are the gold standard of NBA cheerleading and whenever I get a chance to photograph them, I try to do so. I have been able to photograph them a few times over the years, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so because of the league’s camera policy.
So in 2012, I was able to photograph the Laker Girls at an L.A. D-fenders game and I was able to snap several great photos of Laker Girl Jessica, but this one image is my favorite. I guess you can say I am a sucker for a girl with beautiful eyes and a great smile.
David Tyau, National Correspondent
Victory! She made it, and the rest is history.
By GUY CLIFTON
January 3, 2014
The sportscaster, actress, model, NBA scout, wounded warrior advocate, animal rights advocate, entrepreneur, and former San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys and Golden State Warriors cheerleader keeps a whirlwind schedule.
“I’ve always been one of those people that likes to have a ton of irons in the fire,” Laflin said recently at the home of her parents, Ross and Bunnie Laflin, in Spanish Springs. “You only live once, right, so try to do as much as you can.”
She has fit quite a lot into her 37 years, much of it in support of two passions in her life — supporting the military and animal welfare.
“Coming from a military family, my love for the military started at a very young age,” Laflin said. “Both my grandfathers served in World War II. My grandfather on my mom’s side was awarded the Silver Star and the Purple Heart. He was in the Baatan Death March, a POW. My dad’s dad was in the Army Air Corps. I have an uncle who was a career Marine. My dad was a career law enforcement officer.”
Throughout her time as a cheerleader for the 49ers and Dallas Cowboys, she participated USO tours, to entertain the troops overseas — assignments that took her to Bosnia, Germany, Korea, Japan and points around the world. She continued to go after her cheerleading days, often emceeing USO events, including nine trips to Iraq and Afghanistan.
She spent last Christmas in Kuwait and Iraq with the troops.
Her love of animals started in childhood as well. When she had a birthday party, she would ask for donations to animal shelters instead of presents. She rode horses and competed in barrel racing.
She was always rescuing animals and bringing them home — a practice she continued today. Her parents’ ranch home, overlooking the Spanish Springs Valley, is home to eight dogs, two cats, four goats and three chickens — all rescued by Bonnie-Jill.
In 2010, she was able to combine both her passions, starting a charitable organization called Hounds and Heroes. It is a national nonprofit dedicated to lift the spirits and morale of active, wounded, and veteran military troops, and to increase awareness about the cruelty to animals.
Using her connections with the Cowboys and 49ers and the Los Angeles Lakers, where she worked for five years as the only female scout in the NBA, Laflin arranges outings for wounded troops to NFL and NBA games.
She also visits wounded troops in hospitals and sends care packages overseas.
At the same time, Laflin includes her dedication to rescuing animals, in this case dogs.
“We’re rescuing dogs from the shelters, training them and then pairing them up with a service member who needs them, whether it’s as a therapy or a service dog,” she said. “There are different needs. Some are for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), some are because they’re an amputee. There are different things. The way we look at it is we’re saving two lives.”
The charity is Laflin’s unpaid part-time job. She also works full time as a sports broadcaster and also does some acting when time allows. (She appeared in the TV series “Baywatch” and “Ally McBeal” in music videos and, just recently, was on an episode of the Comedy Central show “Key and Peel,” portraying a news anchor.)
After graduating from the University of Texas with a degree in broadcast journalism, (working as a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader at the time), she worked for ESPN as a correspondent on the morning program “Cold Pizza.” She also had a show called “Speed World” covering motor sports.
She’s now an independent broadcaster in Los Angeles, and also produces a sports show in China, traveling there ever two to three months. She’s big on social media in the United States with more than 100,000 followers on Twitter. She’s a virtual rock star in China, which has its own social media, with millions of followers.
She also has her own line of clothing, and other ventures, including a charitable calendar for her fans to raise money for her charities.
“If I could just do charity work, it’s all I would do,” she said. “That’s probably what really fulfills me the most is giving back. I have a lot of great support from the teams that I’ve worked with from the Lakers to the Niners to the Cowboys. Anytime I reach out and say, hey, I need to bring five wounded warriors to a game, they say, ‘Bonnie-Jill, whatever you need.'”
Her ultimate career goal: to be owner of the San Francisco Giants, her favorite team.
In the meantime, Laflin enjoys jumping off the fast track whenever possible and staying with her parents.
“For me to be able to come to my parents’ house and just relax, I just love it,” she said. “My parents have all kinds of animals, all rescues, so it’s nice to decompress. Living in L.A., it’s very fast-paced, very high-strung and stressful. It’s good to get away from the hustle and bustle.”
Individual profiles and photo galleries are now online. Click here to learn more about the ladies on the team!